Engineering team among IDeA student competition finalists

Western Engineering students Shuang Song, Joseph Santarelli and Nicole Kucirek know their idea could be considered all wet. But it just might be a winner.

The Western team developed a sensor that provides swimmers using an iPod or MP3 player with an audio warning when they are reaching the end of a pool. That solution, along with eight others from four different schools, has been named a finalist of the Council of Ontario Universities’ (COU) annual Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition.

“Ontario universities are committed to the provincial goal of creating an accessible environment for everyone,” said Alastair Summerlee, University of Guelph president, who serves as COU chair. “The IDeA competition brings awareness about accessibility to our classrooms by engaging the minds of our students and tapping into their incredible creativity.”

The teams will showcase their inventions at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery conference today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building.

“It’s inspiring to see the innovative and cost-effective solutions to barriers to accessibility that have been produced by Ontario’s talented undergraduate students,” said Bonnie M. Patterson, COU president and CEO. “Our hope is that these students will take what they’ve learned with them as they finish university and move into their careers, creating a culture of accessibility wherever they go.”

This is the second year for the IDeA competition, which is supported through the Ontario government’s EnAbling Change program and COU’s partners at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario in the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

This year, 18 of 21 Ontario universities participated. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, will announce the winners this evening.

“Competitions like IDeA help prepare our youth to become leaders in the development and marketing of accessible goods and services,” Hoskins said. “Not only will this benefit Ontarians with disabilities, it will also give our province a competitive edge in global markets, where the demand for these products and services is growing. I commend all the IDeA participants for opening our minds to countless possibilities, and for demonstrating new ways of advancing accessibility in our communities. ”

Other IDeAs finalists include:

• A system that tracks facial movement and brain electrical activity to provide inputs to a computer, as an alternative to using a mouse and keyboard by David Newman and Trinette Wright, McMaster University;

• A low-cost mechanical hand designed to be produced on a 3-D printer by Tim Inglis, Alim Baytekin, Natalie Lavasseur and Alborz Erfani, Carleton University;

• A variety of assistive devices developed for users in rural Uganda who require better mobility to participate in small business by Ruby Hadley, Carmen Liu and Andrew Theobald, Carleton University;

• A height-adjustable wheelchair seat that allows users to reach higher cupboards by JD Sherman, Carleton University;

• A navigation system that alerts users to obstacles in their environment and provides location on command via audio by Neil Voorneveld, Carleton University;

• A leveling device designed for users with Hemiagnosia, a sight disorder, to increase awareness of proximity to objects they cannot see by Erik Gluk, Devang Saxena and Ali Al-Safi, University of Toronto;

• A custom computer controller, in place of a keyboard and mouse, that can be modified to a user’s unique needs by Calvin Chu, University of Waterloo; and

• A design solution that gives the user complete control of a motorcycle by Tiziano Cousineau, Carleton University.

The winner and two runners-up receive cash rewards of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively.

Next year’s competition will focus on parasport and active living, in honour of the upcoming Pan American Games taking place in Ontario.

Editor’s note: Carleton University swept the awards. A 3-D printer that produces a lower-cost, more functional prosthetic hand, engineered by Carleton undergraduate students Tim Inglis, Alim Baytekin, Natalie Lavasseur and Alborz Erfani, took top spot. First runner up was the Carleton team who developed a variety of assistive devices for users in rural Uganda requiring better mobility so that they could participate in small business. Second runner up was a Carleton student whose navigation system alerts users to obstacles in their environment and provides location on command via audio. Updated May 28, 2013.